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The Thirst MAG
I remembered the smoke, thick and black, washing out to shore bright yellow taxis parked next to hot dog stands. I remembered the sky and the two fingers touching it sticking up from the ground’s hand.
I sat up instantly in my hospital cot. Pale sheets on a ghost-white bed fell without grace through the pasty white tile. Bright shafts of light were suspended above my face in neat rows of eleven. Tepid was the floor that I invaded with my damp feet, creating little smears. I drudged over to the heart monitor and yanked out the cord with a jerk. The beeping that had awoken me was silenced.
Still, something was wrong. Maybe it was really cold. I turned up the thermostat, but something in my stomach was still churning. I was resolved to make it right. I picked up a discarded pair of surgical gloves and tossed them into a green bin labeled “Recycle.” Maybe it was the loud noise coming from the shiftless alley below. I peered out the window and then shut it with a loud thud.
Like a boat propeller, the acidic pain swirled violently inside me. I began scratching all over trying to satiate this unknowable desire. With every second the sensation increased until my nails had dug into my skin drawing out little pebbles of blood. I could take it no longer. I ripped off my aqua gown and stared down at the glowing mess. A symmetrical chunk of flesh had been removed from my chest, yet there was no blood. Inside the vacuous chasm where my fist-sized heart should be was a black, spherical machine with a green blinking light.
I remembered seeing the people drop from the windows. The screams and curses of the police chief and firefighters as they rushed into the Towers. I remembered the vague outlines of people in the distance melting into the red. But mostly I remembered the smoke.
Where was everybody? This was a hospital. Where were all the doctors, pregnant women, and nurses? It was a ghost town.
I wandered into the dull waiting room. The beige wallpaper was coming up at the edges, revealing a thin layer of earwax-looking glue. I forced my feet to move forward against the tan carpet and around a few dusty sofas. I had to find a doctor who would tell me the meaning of this. Why had they just abandoned me on the operating table?
I entered a long corridor and passed a television screen that displayed the President giving a long speech, lamenting the current state of freedom. He announced that the American presence in the Middle East must escalate to “match the threat of unparalleled terror with a force so great, as to make nations crumble.” He shouted on, manhandling the podium, screeching that the “nuke must convey what the mouth and mind have failed to.” Everyone stood up and applauded until their hands bled. The power surged, black for a few seconds, then static with a hiss that seemed to rise in decibels to a slow crescendo, then black again.
Medics kept telling me it would be all right, to just remain calm. I remembered them saying that St. Paul’s was overcrowded with patients and they couldn’t get around the backed-up traffic to get to NYCH. They would have to take me 15 miles north to Briar Creek County. My hands retreated to their place in my jacket, eyes drifting down to a man’s shoe.
I took a left at the corridor and headed toward the neon sign for the cafeteria.
Finally, a vending machine, I thought in heightened aggressiveness.
Live beating hearts inside the vending machine. In orderly, logical rows, each little muscular organ contracting nonsequentially. The bulbous arteries were connected by red tubes that pulsated randomly with what appeared to be electricity. I looked through them to the reflection of my own chest encasing the black robotic sphere. Presently, in a subtle faintness I heard a news reporter comment that his station was the only one to bring live coverage from Iran, where the bomb had been dropped. It was the first atomic bomb to be dropped since Hiroshima, 85 years ago.
“He’s going into shock! Just sit tight, Eli. Eli, can you hear me? Eli, say something!”
“We’re losing him, give me 90 cc’s of petrochlin stat!”
“Eli, this is Dr. Miller. Don’t do this to me! He’s dipping in and out!”
“Is he going to go back into the coma? Please, God, no!”
“Somebody get her out of here! Ma’am, doctors only.”
“His heart rate is dropping.”
“No! I thought I had him out. He’s gonna come out! This is gonna work - it’s gonna work.”
“If he goes back into the coma, he’ll never come out. The stimulants alone would kill him.”
“He’s not going to go back in. We can get him out. Crash cart.”
“He’s got no pulse!”
“No, don’t leave me, baby! Please!”
“Get her out!”
“Now he’s either gonna die or go back into a sleep that he’ll have to get out of on his own. It’s just the facts, ma’am.”
The hospital library has to have some information on this institution. I’ll take anything. Maybe my patient records or perhaps a doctor’s phone number or something. The door wouldn’t budge. It was like no one had opened it in 20 or 30 years. I banged my shoulder against the big brown door. Sweat dripped from my salt and pepper hair to the floor of the library. I rushed in and found the aisle labeled “Records.” The bookshelf was pushed against an old whitewashed wall. The open files on the library table showed no sign of hospital activity in the past three years. All medical practices had apparently stopped abruptly on the evening of April 24, 2023. Patients had been moved from Briar Creek County to an alternate facility in New Jersey. Doctors had been displaced without warning. All 2,000 staff members had been forced to find work elsewhere. I got another book off the shelf. This one, a collection of journal entries from 2004 to 2023, written by a Dr. J.P. Nottingham, was prophetic in its accounts. They were barely legible. I thumbed through the stuck together pages rapidly.
August 15, 2006
Feds came down today ... ordered everyone out of the basement. We rushed the equipment out. Couldn’t save everything.
January 12, 2014
It’s getting harder and harder to keep Phalanx under wraps. Nurses keep asking questions ... “Where’s Ms. Kelper” ... “Whatever happened to that young cute blond guy who was terminally ill?” I don’t know what to tell them.
December 30, 2015
Doctors Smith and Richards have turned on me. They turned in my last e-mail to corporate. I was dumfounded. Backstabbers. The feds are going to send me to an awareness clinic ... It’s like everyone’s turned on me. It’s like there’s something in the water here.
August 15, 2020
I got word from Dr. Mohammed in Iran that the water rationing is getting pretty bad. They don’t even have anything to wash bedpans with. They say the sea is drying faster than expected. Stock for that chemical Nivocilon - the chemical that gets rid of water - is skyrocketing. They just installed new tanks at Briar Creek where they keep it all. I think it’s on the third floor because yesterday, water came leaking in through the library’s back wall. Men in gray suits ordered me to pay no attention and get back to work. If they’ve got water ... they control it all.
I felt it in my ankles first. Icy cold. Rising up my legs. Making the hair on my pale legs stick up. I waded over to the door. There was no chance now of it budging. I waded back to the bookshelf. By this time the water was up to my crotch. I instinctively tried to shove the book back into its little home in the wall. There was no way it was going to stop the rush now. I looked out the window of Briar Creek and down at the masses below with their cups of Starbucks made with New York water, reading the morning headlines about liberation in the Middle East. If only they knew what was going on ... If they’d just stop and think what’s in the water.